Climate Action

Stephan Sicars on the potential of green hydrogen to decarbonize energy value chains

Ahead of the Hydrogen Transition Summit, taking place on the 23 & 25 February, Climate Action caught up with, Stephan Sicars, Managing Director, Directorate of Environment and Energy at UNIDO, to discuss the potential of green hydrogen to decarbonize energy value chains.

  • 18 February 2021
  • Rachel Cooper

Ahead of the Hydrogen Transition Summit, taking place on the 23 & 25 February, Climate Action caught up with, Stephan Sicars, Managing Director, Directorate of Environment and Energy at UNIDO, to discuss the potential of green hydrogen to decarbonize energy value chains.

Can you tell us about the up-coming global partnership and technical cooperation programme on hydrogen in industries?

UNIDO recognizes that green hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize energy value chains, especially those associated with ‘hard-to-abate’ industrial sectors, which represent 20% of GHG emissions. In line with the Organization’s mandate, to promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID), a global partnership and technical cooperation  programme is to be established to stimulate the application of green hydrogen and its technologies in industries of developing and emerging economies.

The global partnership will connect a range of different stakeholders from governments, industries, financial sector, academia and international organizations actively promoting green hydrogen. It will serve as platform for dialogue, to exchange expertise and provide an impetus for the uptake of hydrogen within industries in developing and transition countries. Through the up-coming months, UNIDO will organize a series of consultation and information events to define the set-up of the partnership. The launch is set up to take place at the Vienna Energy Forum in July 2021.

The technical cooperation programme will complement the work of the partnership by providing concrete cooperation projects and activities. One focus will be on normative work relevant for industries at global scale and foresee the elaboration of technical guidelines for GH2 applications. In addition, country-level interventions and topic-specific projects, such as the development of green hydrogen industrial roadmaps and industry clusters based on the “H2 valleys” concept (eco-industrial parks), will be conceived.

In what ways and for what reasons is UNIDO engaging in the promotion of hydrogen?

Energy plays a central role in UNIDO’s overarching mandate.  Green hydrogen can provide developing and transition economies with a zero-carbon energy carrier to support sustainable local industrial development and contribute to the achievement of SDG 7 and SDG 9.  Nonetheless, hydrogen use is currently an area, where the applications are highly limited. By creating a global partnership and defining a broad technical cooperation programme, UNIDO will support these countries’ readiness and capacity for the uptake of hydrogen and its technologies.  

Furthermore, UNIDO is collaborating with the government of China to establish the International Hydrogen Energy Centre (IHEC), which is expected to be launched in spring 2021. The IHEC will offer space for governments and industries to work together to upscale hydrogen technologies, advance research and knowledge dissemination in the field of H2.

UNIDO’s hydrogen work draws on the organization’s long-standing expertise in globally promoting sustainable energy for productive use. In the identification, design and implementation of GH2 activities, UNIDO counts on the cooperation with its wide range of international partners and networks including the Global Network of Regional Sustainable Energy Centers’ (GN-SEC).

What do you see as key success factors for the uptake of H2 by industries in developing and emerging economies?

Firstly, conducive framework conditions and SMART policies are pre-conditions to stimulate the adoption of GH2 by industries. These policies need to consider the specifics of local industries, renewable resources available and existing energy infrastructure. As many countries have already initiated the development of national hydrogen roadmaps, these will be critical for guiding policy makers in identifying high-priority sectors and applications where pilot projects and research is most needed. Moreover, the national implementation plans might define crucial opportunities for ‘sector coupling´ hereby  further lowering costs for decarbonization.                     

Secondly, standards and technical guidelines for operating and maintaining hydrogen systems need to be in place. These also provide the basis for building local capacities and know-how in developing and emerging economies to ensure safe production, storage and transport for the use of hydrogen in industries.

What are the opportunities for hydrogen in the global south?

The reduced costs of renewables present a unique opportunity for the global south. The current scenario projects continued reduction of costs in producing GH2 from renewables as the production costs of solar PV and onshore wind have fallen dramatically. Countries with abundant renewable energy sources could become producers of GH2 and develop their industries in sustainable manner with low-cost renewable resources.

Opportunities for a variety of GH2 applications further exist within island locations, remote communities, countries with existing gas infrastructure and areas with ample renewable resources. For instance, the present demand for fossil-derived hydrogen in developing countries is mainly concentrated in the production of ammonia. Producing green ammonia in developing countries, using low-cost renewable energy and electrolysis, would create a more evenly distributed production model by reducing transport costs and creating prospects for local industrial development.

As countries are developing recovery strategies after the COVID-19 outbreak, how do you view the role of hydrogen technologies as part of these green recoveries?

As previously outlined, hydrogen can support countries transitioning towards a decarbonized industrial sector and a distributed energy system. Such a system would be more resilient to global shocks and climate adverse events.

Including GH2 as an additional feature to the Green Recovery process after the COVID-19 pandemic would leverage public funds for hydrogen infrastructure, stimulate private investments in hydrogen technologies and drive innovation. Paired with long-standing political commitments, this would considerably contribute to the creation of momentum to advance GH2 economies and positively impact local industries.

Stephan Sicars will be speaking at the Hydrogen Transition Summit, taking place on the 23 & 25 February. Learn how we can make the hydrogen hype a reality by registering for free today.